AURORA, Colo. -- From the day he was born, Kiko Violante was a healthy, happy little boy. He met all his milestones, and loved running, jumping and playing soccer with his mom, Laura. When he started pre-school this fall, he came down with what seemed like a cold.
"Runny nose, cough and for about a week he was like that," says Laura Violante. She wasn't too concerned, until he started having trouble walking.
"He just wasn’t walking the way he used to. I had to really support him. And then he couldn’t look at me. He started doing this rigid movement in his neck, and he couldn’t really turn."
Kiko was admitted to the ICU in his hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico. He underwent and MRI and other tests. Finally his family brought Kiko to Children's Hospital Colorado in Aurora, where he was diagnosed with acute flaccid myelitis (AFM).
What is AFM?
AFM is a rare illness that many have compared to Polio, though not nearly as common as Polio was before the vaccine. AFM causes inflammation around the cells in the spine that control movement in the limbs. Patients have reported cold-like symptoms, before they are suddenly unable to move.
According to the CDC, there are only about 90 cases of AFM in the country this year. Last year there were 50 cases. There was a spike in 2014, with 120 cases. In both 2014 and 2016, cases of AFM spiked in September.
Pediatric neurologists at Children's Hospital Colorado were at the forefront of identifying AFM in 2014 when 14 cases were diagnosed in Colorado. Doctor Teri Shreiner says at that time there was also an outbreak of the viral infection enterovirus d68.
"We suspect that AFM is related to the enterovirus d68 but we’ve only been able to detect the virus in about 50 percent of the cases we’ve seen, so it is not present uniformly," says Shriener.
Since 2014, Children's Hospital Colorado has tracked patients, and most have recovered at least some movement in their limbs. When Kiko first moved his fingers and toes again, his mother says it was an exciting moment.
"I would sleep by him in his bed and wait for some little wiggle," she laughs.
The family is getting a lot of support from friends back home in New Mexico. A GoFundMe page was set up for Kiko. Friends also reached out to the Cody Unser First Step foundation. Cody Unser, daughter of racing legend Al Unser Jr., was left paralyzed as a child from transverse myelitis. It’s believed acute flaccid myelitis is a subset of that disease. Her foundation is pushing for more research into these conditions.
Kiko has now been at Children's Hospital Colorado for more than a month. He continues to make progress, but his family knows they have a long road ahead. His mother is hopeful.
"Every single kid with this is different. That’s the scary part because you don’t know if he’s going to be able to stand, or be able to walk."